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Video: How to strengthen your self-control

  1. Transcript of: How to strengthen your self-control

    KATHIE LEE GIFFORD, co-host: We're back on this Boozeday Tuesday with TODAY'S WOMAN and a few questions to ask yourself.

    HODA KOTB, co-host: Do you have a hard time getting out of bed? Do you grit your teeth when you're waiting in line? Do you find it tough to say no to those french fries ? If you say yes...

    GIFFORD: We did yesterday.

    KOTB: I know -- to any of those questions, your will power may be in need of a makeover.

    GIFFORD: Prevention magazine's senior editor Siobhan O'Connor is here with some strategies for strengthening your self-control. Good to see you.

    KOTB: Hi .

    Ms. SIOBHAN O'CONNOR (Senior Editor, Prevention Magazine): Great to be here.

    KOTB: Well, this is...

    GIFFORD: We all need a little strategy.

    KOTB: We do. And this is crazy. This is a new study says that we spend three to four hours every day resisting our urges, whether it's for food or sex or drinking or whatever. That's a lot of time.

    GIFFORD: Or all of the above .

    KOTB: Yeah, you know what I'm saying?

    Ms. O'CONNOR: It's astounding. And those are -- those are actually the things. There was -- the things that we resist the most are...

    KOTB: Yeah.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: ...food, desire to take a break from work...

    KOTB: Yeah.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: ...desire to take a nap, sleep...

    KOTB: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: ...and have sex. So not surprising there. But what's interesting is that people who actually have stronger self-control...

    KOTB: Yeah.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: ...spend less time resisting their desires than people...

    GIFFORD: Well, how do they get that self-control?

    KOTB: Yeah.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: They plan ahead. So we have three tips in Prevention , three main tips that you should draw from.

    KOTB: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: And the first one is plan ahead. You know, in life, in all things, you have two options. You could play offense or play defense.

    KOTB: Right.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: And when it comes to Prevention -- when it comes to willpower, your best bet is always, always playing offense.

    KOTB: So what does that mean...

    GIFFORD: But there are some people that are just proactive by nature, it seems like.

    KOTB: Yes.

    GIFFORD: And other people are procrastinators by nature.

    KOTB: Yeah.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: But the research shows that we all actually have the same amount of willpower.

    KOTB: Really?

    Ms. O'CONNOR: We all do. Yes. It's just that we allocate it differently.

    KOTB: But we -- OK. Because there are certain people -- and we were talking about this with the marathon -- they're in the back of the pack, but they finished it based on sheer willpower.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Exactly.

    KOTB: And a lot of people in a million years don't get off the couch.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Right. Because they committed to that goal.

    KOTB: Right.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: And when it comes to procrastination, they said, you know, 95 percent of us procrastinate regularly and the other 5 percent are probably lying.

    KOTB: Right.

    GIFFORD: But ultimately, is that the difference between the successful person and one who just never realizes their dreams come true?

    KOTB: Right.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: I mean, I think -- I think at the end of the day you just have to -- if you put that peddle to the metal and just get the job done. You know, you have to get to work. Eventually the bill comes due.

    KOTB: Right.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: And there are, you know -- and planning. So for instance, you know, Thanksgiving is coming up. If you're planning a big meal with your in-laws, this is a potentially stressful situation for you.

    KOTB: Right.

    GIFFORD: Don't shop the night before.

    KOTB: Right.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Don't shop the night before. Don't quit smoking that week, you know. Don't decide that you're going to -- whatever it is.

    KOTB: Lose five pounds by...

    GIFFORD: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Lose five pounds before it happens. Yes.

    GIFFORD: Don't overload yourself.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Exactly.

    GIFFORD: One goal, one goal at a time.

    KOTB: Yeah.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Yeah.

    KOTB: That does make sense. Do you -- but you don't think people are hard-wired a certain way? This one, by the way, rarely procrastinates. I'm telling you, she's always got a book open, something going. Some people always have something going.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Right.

    KOTB: Some people don't. Some people would rather sit in front of the TV and blob out.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Perhaps we are, but I think...

    KOTB: Yeah.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: I think, you know, when you do look at the research and they've studied -- Dr. Baumeister , for instance, he's a leader in the field, he's studied this for decades. And if it -- it turns out that we all -- we're all capable of being more like Kathie Lee .

    KOTB: Yeah.

    GIFFORD: But no. It's just, you know what I've learned? I think it's just because I'm older than everybody and you realize you've got to do it anyway, you're going -- you've got more energy now, do it now because A, B, C, and D are going to happen and then you're really going to be off.

    KOTB: Yeah.

    GIFFORD: And you're going to take it out on people you love as opposed to a treadmill...

    KOTB: Right.

    GIFFORD: ...that's made for it.

    KOTB: For sure.

    GIFFORD: You know, I think it comes from just wisdom of being around for a long, long time and realizing what works and what doesn't ultimately work.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Right.

    KOTB: Sure.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Another thing that works really well is logging, logging what you're doing.

    KOTB: Right.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Like if you have a major goal -- weight loss, running a marathon, whatever it is...

    GIFFORD: Write it down. Journal it.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: ...drinking less -- journal it.

    KOTB: Even eating, yeah. If you write down everything you eat.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Yeah. Because we all fall off the wagon at some point, we all mess up.

    KOTB: Sure.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: And so then...

    GIFFORD: We need to have a little more mercy for ourselves, too, don't we?

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Exactly.

    GIFFORD: And for each other.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: And we can look back and say, 'OK, well, look, I did -- I was really good for three months and then I went crazy on dessert.'

    GIFFORD: Blew it yesterday, but tomorrow's another day.

    Ms. O'CONNOR: Exactly.

    KOTB: All right. Thanks, Siobhan.

    GIFFORD: That's right . A little sign in my dressing room says, 'Tomorrow is another chardonnay.'

    KOTB: Oh, I like that a lot.

updated 11/8/2011 10:33:11 AM ET 2011-11-08T15:33:11

Witness the role of willpower in your daily life: From the moment the alarm sounds in the morning, it's only by sheer determination that you rouse yourself from the warm sheets into the still-dark morning. You grit your teeth when the barista takes 6 minutes to fill your coffee order--never mind those $200 shoes you talk yourself out of buying or the fries you force yourself to leave on your plate at lunch. It's no wonder that by the time 6 pm rolls around, you're waging World War III on your husband for forgetting to pick up the milk on his way home. Again.

Our lives are full of temptations that tax our self-control and drain our willpower, but a new and growing body of research says you can make it through the day without losing your cool --and it isn't as hard as you think.

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First, you need to realize that doing anything you don't want to do--suppressing irritation at your mother-in-law, fighting an impulse to do something you shouldn't, completing a task when you want to quit--draws on the same storehouse of willpower. But help is here: According to Roy Baumeister, PhD, director of social psychology at Florida State University, willpower functions like a muscle. It can be fatigued by overuse, but it can also be strengthened to make you more productive, less stressed, and happier. All you need are a few healthy habits to keep your willpower tank on full.

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1. Play Offense

When Dr. Baumeister monitored workers in Germany, he was surprised to find that people spent between 3 and 4 hours per day resisting desires, the most common of which were urges to eat, sleep, take a break from work, and have sex. But Dr. Baumeister also found that people with strong self-control spent less time resisting desires than other people did.

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At first he was puzzled. If self-control is for resisting desires, why are people who have more of it using it less? Soon the explanation emerged: They're better at proactively arranging their lives to avoid problem situations. These are the folks who take the car to the shop before it breaks down, give themselves enough time to finish a project, and steer clear of all-you-can-eat buffets. They play offense instead of defense--which means they set themselves up so they have a realistic chance of succeeding.

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2. Use The Calm Before It Storms

You can't control--or even predict--the surprise stresses that come into your life, but you can use peaceful moments to take on the stubborn ones. Quitting smoking, cutting back on drinking, having that talk with your spouse--these are all best done during times of low demand in other parts of your life. So if you're starting a new job, don't quit smoking cold turkey the same month. If your marriage is going through a rough patch, don't try to lose those stubborn 10 pounds. And when you know a stressful spell is upon you--tax season, say, or a big deadline at work--ask yourself: How will I expend my willpower today, this evening, and next week?

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3. Don’t Dawdle

Procrastination is an almost universal vice--95% of people admit to doing it at least sometimes (and we have no idea who those other 5% are--or whom they're trying to kid). Psychologists have often blamed procrastination on a compulsion to do things perfectly. That sounds right, but Dr. Baumeister and Dianne Tice, PhD, a psychologist at Florida State University, discovered that impulsiveness is more likely behind it. When procrastinators are anxious or bored, they give in to the urge to improve their moods by doing something else. But they're mostly kidding themselves: Eventually, the bill comes due and procrastinators suffer considerably more willpower-depleting stress (and get sick more) than those who work on a schedule. Moral of the story: Bite the bullet and get to work.

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4. Always Remember the Basics

As you work toward a goal, you might be tempted to let other things go--like regular meals and a good night's sleep. But what you save in time, you ultimately pay for: It's hard to keep up the hard work when you're tired and hungry. So the next time you feel your will to power through begin to flag, grab a handful of almonds or an apple, and remember that getting your rest is just as important as nutrition when it comes to willpower.

5. Put It In Writing

Keeping track of your progress is crucial for staying on board with any plan. It offers immediate encouragement, and on days when you falter, you can look back at your log for a mental pick-me-up--instead of writing yourself off as a lost cause. Gaining a couple of pounds this week isn't so discouraging if you have a chart showing a line sloping downward for the past 6 months.

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6. Reward Yourself Well and Often

Incentives can work wonders. Journalist Esther Dyson--a disciplined daily swimmer--likes to tell how after years of failing to floss regularly, she was finally struck by the right incentive: If she flossed her teeth, she would permit herself to swim 5 fewer minutes the following day. That was 4 years ago, and she has flossed every night since. "Everybody needs to find their own little thing," she says. What's yours?

Adapted from Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, and New York Times journalist John Tierney. It is out now, from the Penguin Press ($28)

More links from Prevention:

6 Ways to Fight Food Cravings
8 Tips To Start Your Day Right
The Secrets to All-Day Energy
How the Scale is Your Ally to Weight Loss

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.


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